Monday, March 1, 2010

Sykotyk Rampage - "22" Review!

Well, it's March 1st, and as promised, it's time for the newest monthly local metal CD review! After months of anticipation, it's finally time to review the newest album from Sault Ontario "blue Chinese metal crash punk" band Sykotyk Rampage! It's entitled "22", appropriately because it's their twenty-second studio album! The album features the band's current lineup, including Paul Becker on lead vocals & drums, his brother Dirk Becker on guitar & backing vocals (some songs feature Dirk singing lead too), Shane Kokis on guitar, and Paul's son-in-law Brian Cattapan on bass. Released in early December, it was recorded at Riverfront Recreation Studios in July 2009 over a two week recording session, where all of the songs (as is the case on every one of their albums) were completely improvised in-studio. After months of post-production, "22" was released online through Sykotyk Rampage's giant collection of online music pages, most notably at their primary SoundClick page. The whole album is streamable there (as is much of their back catalog), but the supportive fan in you will want to buy it, I hope! So click here to buy "22" for just $7.99, which is a HUGE deal when you consider that the album is long enough to require a double CD release if it was released on CD! Individual songs are available also for 75 cents each. (Updated on September 28th, 2012)

Considering the band's unique nature and improvisation, this album may be tough to review compared to the more "standard" types of albums, but I will be as objective and fair to judge the album on it's own merits, without comparing it to other bands. The album features a whopping 23 SONGS (wouldn't it have made sense to only have 22?), including 15 brand new songs, and 8 re-recorded Sykotyk Rampage classics. Each new song has substantial differences from the originals, so I won't critique the old versions except in comparison with the new versions. Let's begin with the first song on "22", "Credit Card Blues"!

A nice bass intro starts off "Credit Card Blues", and you can tell from the scattered chatter that it's a looser, less mechanical song than some more standard songs! Not a terribly heavy song, but it has a catchy beat that will get your toe tapping, with a definite blues rock feel! Paul has a unique hard rock voice, kinda gritty with a bluesy quality, and the fact that he sings and drums at the same time deserves a lot of credit! The bass work really stands out, Brian's bass work always has to me! The guitars don't have a huge impact compared to other songs on the album, but they do their job! The music itself is slightly repetitive at parts too, but it's a fun toe tapping opener to the album! It's followed by "Lit'le Crocochild", which is already growing into a live favourite! Dirk has described this as a "rockabilly" song, and I see what he means, though I think it's heavier than he gives it credit for! Faster than "Credit Card Blues", and the guitar picks up here as well, especially with a bit of a solo section that adds a touch of variety. Definitely a more energetic song, dare I say it's danceable? But again, like with "Credit Card Blues", it does get slightly repetitive, but that's easily forgettable with a song like this, it gets stuck in your head if you don't watch out! Also take notice of the backing vocals from Dirk Becker, you'll hear a lot more of that in later songs!

Song 3 is "Dragging Me Down", which has a cool almost psychedelic-feeling opening with how it sounds, with Paul's exclamations of not to drag him down, and Dirk's "interesting" backing vocals! It doesn't have the up-tempo energy of "Lit'le Crocochild", but it's not supposed to, it's supposed to have a heavier and darker quality to it, and it works well, while still being familiar to their sykotyk nature! Paul's drumming is the best it's been all album so far, and the guitars are really cool effects wise, though there's no proper "solos", you can tell they're doing some cool things! One major complaint though is that it ends abruptly, what happened to the end of the song? Oh well, though not as party-like as the first two songs, I like the atmosphere they provided on this one, I approve! Then we have "Candy Store Baby", starting with another cool bass intro, with the guitars and drums slowly joining in. At 5:56, it's the CD's longest track, and one of the least heavy too. It's another bluesy song, but compared to "Credit Card Blues", this is totally on a lower more reserved key. Lyrics are fun, talking about comparing a girl to a candy store! The guitar gets some moments in the sun here, the individual instruments are really easy to pick out in this kind of a song! I gotta say, I definitely prefer the heavier tunes to this, but blues sounds are a common sight on Sykotyk Rampage releases, and it's at least played well, so on that regard, it works!

Fifth is "Day 1", which sounds at first like the vocals of a heavier song and the music of a lighter song were produced together. Paul's singing in his own unique heavy manner, but the song itself is mostly pretty reserved on a energy level, interesting clash here. About 2 minutes in, everything gets really heavy though, and this is when I started really digging the song! Though the singing never changes, the song really grabs you in the last half, the slow build just didn't match the vocals so it didn't totally work for the first couple minutes. Aside from that, it's a solid song, though the end changes really abruptly from a cool guitar part to a fade out of the lighter opening riffs without a real transition. It's a good song, but uneven to me. It's followed by "Bella", which is really out of character with the typical Sykotyk Rampage sound. It's a short ballad-like guitar instrumental that sounds like it could be a LopLops Lounge kind of song, rather than something from "the original crash band". Don't get me wrong though, it's well played, but it doesn't scream "Sykotyk Rampage" to me. But if you're in the mood for a soft guitar-driven song to mellow out to, this should work well! It's just not one of my favourites.

Don't worry, crash lovers, the rock returns on the seventh song, "Black Widow"! It sounds like a heavier rendition of their bluesy stuff. The song's lyrics and vocals sound heavier than the catchy blues instrumentation, and it works here pretty nicely! I particularly like the guitar here, it's got a really nice sound! Not really moshable though, but it has heavier qualities compared to their other bluesy tracks! But again, like with "Dragging Me Down", we have another abrupt ending. A solid song, definitely one of my personal favourites! But where that had an abrupt end, "French Maid Singing", the next song, has an abrupt beginning, which has an atmospheric quality to it I didn't expect! The pace picks up with some fast drum and guitar work, yet not that heavy either. This is the first song on "22" to feature Dirk Becker on lead vocals, and he has kind of a punk snarl/quaver to his voice, yet he doesn't sing in a punk's hard to describe, but it works for the songs he sings on in a weirdly effective way! The music itself is really quiet compared to some other songs, I don't know if that's intentional or just low in the mix, but it hurts the song. Definitely one of the most unique tracks, lyrically and otherwise, though it's worth listening! It'll have to grow on you, as it did on me, but Dirk's best is yet to come!

Ninth, we have "River Flows", which maintains a slightly upbeat tone without getting too fast and heavy. Again, it's hard to explain. I think it's one of the guitars, which has a bouncy higher effect on this song compared to stuff I've been hearing. I like it though, it just sounds weird on a first listen. Compared to some of the earlier songs, this doesn't have a catchy quality, though the guitar is the best I've heard all album so far, the ending is this close to being a real and proper solo too! It's good when you listen to it, but it's not something that's going to stick in my head. But this song sure will, it's track number 10, "Got No Money"! It features guest lead vocals from Paul's daughter Jean, and how does she sound? Let's say she sings in an amusing manner, almost trying to sound like her dad! She sings about having no money, telling off credit cards, and asking her dad and Uncle Dirk if they have money. Odd lyrics, but in it's own strange weird way, the song, which is tied with "Bella" for the album's shortest, works on a humour level, and I think that's what was intended! I'm not sure if this is Jean's real singing voice or it's intentionally like this for effect, but I was amused by it, so props to her! No offense if something I said was bad!

Eleventh is "Sunflower", and like "Bella", we have another out-of-character instrumental here. The main difference here is there's more effects and an atmospheric quality like on "French Maid Singing". It sounds more experimental too, with additional stuff and instruments. It gives it an avant-garde quality, it starts off quiet and pretty (the guitars have a foreign kind of vibe to them), but it then gets stranger and more creative. Though not one of my favourites, I do like it more than "Bella", but you can debate that all you like. Then we have "White Stallion", the second and final new song featuring Dirk on lead vocals, and I definitely like this the most of his two lead songs! His singing ranges from the quavery unique singing he's known for, to some rangier parts and even some more angry sections! The song seems to build up higher and more climactic as it goes, and Dirk's singing matches it well as it goes! It feels like climbing a musical mountain as you go, if that makes sense. This is the better of the two songs Dirk sings lead on, but I wouldn't put this above the best Paul-sang tracks. Entertaining song though!

"Working Sweat" is lucky song number 13, which begins with a nice blues-influenced riff which has a good deal of heaviness to it as well! The guitar to me is the best part of the song, Paul's vocals aren't as aggressive as I'd like, and the bass isn't standing out too much, but the guitar rules, especially the solo improvised sections and the end! Another repetitive song, but I'm used to that by now. I like it, but it could be more than it is. Fourteenth is "Loud", and does the song live up to it's name? In ways, yes, in other ways, no. The lyrics and vocals are definitely loud and heavy, but the instrumentation doesn't live up to that for most of the song, not really getting heavy and loud all around until really late in the song. Aside from the singing, it drags to me for the first 4 minutes. I still like it, but like on "Working Sweat", it could have been more. Last is "Rock Me", which starts with an opening that sounds like their version of "Thuderstruck" by AC/DC before it picks up! It's a solid closer to the new songs, it really does "rock me" like the song says! The bass is really nice here, and it has a nice level of heaviness, it's a very nice song! Good vocals, good guitar, good everything really. Not my favourite, but it's in the top 5! And so closes the section of the album with new material!

But that's far from all, as the band closed "22" with 8 re-recordings of some of their classic songs, one of which dates back to one of their 2003 releases. First is "Drinking on the Weekend", a rerecording of their signature song! This is the version we hear live, and it noticeably different from the original version as heard on their 2006 album "Original Crash Band". The original didn't have as much originality or sing along parts compared to this version, which is definitely more fun and energetic, and great to jam out to! It's about the feelings one goes through during the days leading up to the weekend, when it's time to get drunk! Fun song, one of their all time best and possibly their best known! Then is "Called In Dead", another classic first seen on 2008's "9 Days". A country inspired song, it's a tribute to Johnny Cash, and tells about calling in dead to work instead of calling in sick, which is amusing! Now the new version is also a lot closer to the current live version they play, but honestly, the old one has more energy in the vocals, it sounds like Paul was trying harder on that one vocally. Aside from that, the new one is definitely better musically, and catchier. It's another good drinking song that you'll hear often at their live shows!

Third of the re-recordings is "Murderess", originally seen on 2007's "Drunken Masquerade". The new version is rawer and has less tech effects put on it, along with adding more aggressive vocals from Paul to the singing Dirk already provided. This makes the song heavier and more fun to listen to, though the original had originality with it's old style! Dirk and Paul compliment each other well on the tradeoff vocals, and this is definitely one of "22's" heaviest songs! Absolutely one of my favourite songs! Next is their new version of "Pink Radio", first heard on 2004's "Pro Pagan Da". The first version had female guest vocals and a more majestic quality through the post production, and was obviously influenced by Pink Floyd lyrically and musically, especially "Wish You Were Here". It still is, but any post-effects are gone and now it's just Sykotyk Rampage playing what they play best: crash music! It's a reserved song compared to what we're used to, but it works, Pink Floyd fans will wanna check it out!

Fifth of the re-recordings, 20th overall, is the crudely titled "Sex Toy, Oh My Baby", originally seen on 2003's "Mama Why Don't You Like Me". It's about what you think it's about, and hopefully you're not easily offended! Like on "Pink Radio", the new version removes female guest vocals and a lot of post production effects, giving it a cleaner "just the band" sound, which I think works best for Sykotyk Rampage! Lyrics are crude and talk heavily about the marital aid in the song title, listen and see for yourself! All that aside and you get catchy crash that, though not exceedingly heavy, will likely get stuck in your head! "Next Victim" is the next track, you may remember it originally from another 2008 CD, "Self Indulgent Nympho"! Honestly, there isn't a lot of difference between the two versions, so I'm thinking this was re-recorded for the sake of liking the song. That being said, it's got a nice constant groove, though it can be repetitive. Paul sings well, and the guitar stands out once again! I like this one as well!

Seventh of the classics re-recorded is "Treating You Bad", the second re-recording from "9 Days", and I don't think I like it as much as the original. It not only loses some post-production effects, but also loses some energy as well, it feels more tired than the original. I love the song in it's original form and live, but the re-recording feels like a missed opportunity to capture it's true essence. It's catchy and though not exceedingly heavy, is a very likeable song, but I just wish the new version had the original's enthusiasm...but that's just me. The album's final song is a re-recording of "Drinkin' Problem", and this is another definite improvement, though maybe not the best choice as the closing song. The new version is completely more energetic than the honestly boring original from 2004's "Smokin' Man", and captures the blues essence it's trying to maintain a lot better. But for a closer, I'd have went with a heavier song from the re-recordings, like "Drinking On The Weekend", which often closes their concerts, so why not have it close the CD? Oh well, it's a good blues song and a live staple, and another quality improvement from their back catalog!

So that's "22", all 23 songs of it! How do I rate this? Well, let me start by saying there is no band like Sykotyk Rampage in the Sault area, so it's hard to objectively compare them to anything in terms of rating and recommending. They combine metal, alternative, blues, punk, and atmospheric stuff into a blender and we come out with harsh music for harsh minds! Now some will point to things they think are issues, like the production quality and musical abilities, but this is what they like to do. They've made 22 albums playing what they want, how they want it, and I applaud them for that! The concept of improvising albums as you go is really ingenious and it makes every album a surprise, for good or bad! Musically, while I would like to see real guitar solos from Dirk and Shane Kokis, I can't complain as far as their style or methods, what they do is perfect for who they are! Brian's a great bassist, Dirk and Shane are good guitarists who play well, Paul's a good drummer, and both Paul and Dirk have some of the most unique voices among local rock musicians! I've noticed an evolution of the band's sound & style over the years, with newer releases eschewing post-production effects in favour of just the band playing their crash music, and that's what they're best at. I also missed hearing new blatantly dirty songs on "22", but hey, music comes before lyrics.

Admittedly, Sykotyk Rampage are hard to describe, and won't be everyone's cup of tea, but that's why you have to go into this with a clear head. It's another solid effort from these local veterans! I love the heavier catchier songs, but some just don't flow the way I'd like. Others seem out of place, but as a whole, it succeeds in it's own unique way! I'm used to the variety, and the songs I don't like as much still work, and maybe you'll like them too! The re-recordings are great as well, they better capture Sykotyk Rampage's current sound and put them back to basics, where they sound best! Don't analyze "22" expecting Gates of Winter-level proficiency and production, this isn't what Sykotyk Rampage are all about. They play blue Chinese metal crash punk, which is often amusing, mostly entertaining, and very original! What more can you ask for? Just expect to be entertained and amused often, find songs you like, and free your mind! So if you like baboons eating peanut butter or puppies snoring, this is the album for you! And I personally can't wait for their 23rd album!

So there is this month's local metal CD review! Now we're all caught up from the flurry of November-December album releases, and we can dip back into the archives for our next review! And next month will be interesting, as I will take a look at the first (and so far, only) album from Sault Michigan's own Intergrated System of Machines, entitled "Apocalyptic Vision"! This'll be a good one for you death/epic metal fans, you won't wanna miss it! Now barring the release of a new local album by May, I will take my planned re-visit of Garden of Bedlam's self-titled EP, and past then, it's anyone's guess! We'll have to wait and see what comes next!

That's all for now, I'm in Detroit as we speak so I don't know when my next post will be, but hopefully it will be very soon! Stay tuned for more, and check out "22"!

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